Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What's in a Name?

Often, when having trouble training a dog, it comes very clear that somewhere along the line a basic piece of the information we wanted our dog to learn was missed. I see it often in classes when dogs are reluctant to sit, lie down or come. The first, very basic piece of information your dog needs to learn is that his name is to make him "stop, look, and listen". His name is your attention flag, getting him to look at you before you tell him what you want next. As I tell my students, your dog never comes to you butt first! His head has to lead!

If your dog's name has been used for something negative, i.e., you say "Fluffy" (and he looks) and then you proceed to tell him what a bad dog he is, he's going to associate that sound with something bad following it. That means the next time you call "Fluffy" he'll take his time looking at you, perhaps acting like he doesn't hear you, making you say it more than once, sniffing the ground, etc. All these are obvious avoidance behaviors, and that should never happen on your dog's name.

He should love his name, to the point that when you say it he looks at you immediately in anticipation of something good. We play name game all the time with our puppy students as well as our ongoing students. Name game starts with saying the dogs name, and when he looks at your face (into your eyes if he will!) you connect with a "nice" or "good" and then after you complete your connection you feed him. Let him know that looking at you on this sound is wonderful for him. After we start getting good head turns on name, we then start adding commands, i.e., "Fluffy" (he looks)..."sit".

Always remember, your dog has to be connected to you to respond to you. His name should bring him right into your world, and from there, once he's looking, he's yours to talk to!

Name game is a foundation piece that many people don't practice. So, when the dog is in the middle of the yard and you call him without getting him to look first, your chances of the recall working on the first or second try are slim. Just like kids when we tell them to "look at me" when you're talking to them, it's the same for dogs. Get their attention first and your chances are much better they'll follow your command. So many times I tell my folks that the reason their recalls failed at class wasn't because the dog didn't know the word come, but that they couldn't get the dog to even look at them first. It was the name game that failed. Thus, the glitch in information!

So, never use your dog's name for anything negative. If he's in trouble, tell him, just don't use his name. If you have more than one dog and you're afraid the other dog will think it's him, remember, you're also using your eyes, and dogs know that if you're looking at them they're it!

Have fun playing name game with your pup! It's a foundation piece of information that your dog must have in place to go further in life!

Play away!

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